While network shows increasingly ditch elaborate title sequences in recent years, cable and streaming services still utilise these little pieces of filmmaking which are often delights in their own rights. Some are brilliantly incorporated into the show’s structure, some are works of art in their own right, some are simple mood establishers, and some just make you wonder why they bothered.
With a new series premiering basically every week, it’s time to look at my take on the year’s best new TV title sequences. Last year’s big winners – “True Detective” and “The Leftovers” – saw some massive changes to their superb title sequences this year and were sadly worse for it. Here’s hoping these new ones don’t suffer the same fate:
1. The Man in the High Castle
Boasting one of the most intriguing setups of any show this year, Amazon’s series adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story explores an alternate 1960s America in a world where the Allies lost WW2 and the Germans and Japanese now occupy the United States. This lent itself to all sorts of ideas for credits sequences.
Full props then to the result – a combination of light, shadow, maps, American landmarks, German war technology and Nazi symbolism blend together in a black-and-white Leni Riefenstahl-esque film showing a U.S. culture now living under totalitarian rule. The real icing on the cake though is the use of ‘Edelweiss’ from “The Sound of Music,” not just a killer reference but a melancholy cover of a song that would not exist in the world the series portrays.
Made entirely of a blood-like substance (but NOT blood) revealing the shapes of New York architectural monuments, cityscapes, statues and figures – the opening titles of Marvel and Netflix’s first series takes an idea similar to that used in the titles for NBC’s “Hannibal” (though in that case it’s wine) and expands it to something even grander and more daring.
Set to a specially crafted instrumental theme that quickly establishes mood, it holds up under the multiple viewings that comes with binge-watching. There’s also more rewards in subsequent vieweings as the symbolism becomes clearer once you’re a few episodes into the narrative and understand some more of the context of these landmarks be they related to character or the Hell’s Kitchen setting of the show.
3. The Jinx
HBO’s water cooler docuseries “The Jinx” proved one of the most talked about TV events of 2015 with its shocking revelations. Even so, a documentary series is rarely an outlet one comes to expect great opening titles for. That makes it such a treat that not only does the series sport them, but they are up there with the gold standard of HBO’s absolute best (eg. “Game of Thrones,” “Carnivale,” “Deadwood,” “True Detective”).
Set to The Eels’ “Fresh Blood,” the visuals combine imagery ranging from police and news footage, photos, news headlines, actor re-enactments, and set them all against chaotic swirls of snow or sparks. It’s a bit sensationalistic about its morbid subject matter, but so is the series in general which fits in nicely with the tone.
4. Flesh and Bone
With its dramas like “Black Sails,” “Da Vinci’s Demons,” “Power” and “Outlander” boasting some of the best credits sequences on television of the past decade, I wondered if Starz might come up short here considering this series was cut short and turned into a mini-series instead. I need not have feared.
Set to Karen O’s slow ballad version of Animotion’s 1980s synthpop hit “Obsession,” the titles for this behind-the-scenes exploration of the world of the New York ballet just ooze quality. Cutting between a ballet dancer playing with red powder against a black background, and the hard prep work that comes with any ballet session, it’s classy, eerie and mesmerising.
5. Jessica Jones
Boasting a watercolor meets noir-style graphic novel appearance, the titles for the second of Marvel and Netflix’s collaborations couldn’t be any more different in style from the first – and yet both work superbly not just for the tone of their respective shows but also for the same universe that they inhabit.
The jazz and rock infused music mixes with incredibly colorful swirls and a comic artistry that look like we’re taking a walk through New York with someone who has ingested way too much LSD. It immediately conveys a lighter and less self serious tone than the “Daredevil” credits, but also hints at the even darker psychological corners that the series explores.
6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Like the lady at the heart of the series itself, this is endlessly energetic and fun. A simple thirty second song is like an earworm, once you’ve heard it you’ll never forget it and find yourself singing it an inopportune moments. What makes it stranger is that it’s not exactly a pretty song – it’s autotuned to the nth degree and mostly involves comedian Mike Britt just straight up talking, yet it somehow works.
Combine that with a clip akin to a viral news video with footage from the show, news reports, even photos of actress Ellie Kemper as a kid and you have something that clicks. At 30 seconds it never wears out its welcome either unlike quite a few other series.
7. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Doing essentially another take on the credits that were used in the film, the Netflix prequel series to the cult comedy feature once again has cast members partying around a campfire with Jefferson Starship’s trash-tastic “Jane” playing out.
It feels so of its time – free flowing booze, joints, polaroid cameras, messy making out, vomiting, women in tight tops gyrating, men in tiny shorts prancing around, even the old fashioned font on the credits evoke the time and all of it is hilarious.
8. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Rachel Bloom is such a raw talent straight out of the box and her sheer energy and skill shines through in this otherwise hand animated intro which quickly and cleverly explains the quirky musical show’s darkly comic premise. Any sequence featuring a sun wearing shades and singing cheerily about someone’s mental illness certainly has balls, and like ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ above it’s both cute, catchy and short enough you’ll keep singing it for days after.
This delightfully retro yet still contemporary detective noir series based on Michael Connolly’s detective character Harry Bosch boasts a credits sequence that perfectly fits its subject matter. A metaphor for two sides to the story behind every crime along with classic good vs. evil trope, the sequence involves a simple reflection trick with scenic shots of Los Angeles being turned into a kaleidoscopic wonder.
All the shots are well selected in terms of conveying Los Angeles from the high rises of downtown to the endless freeways, strip malls and scant prettier pockets. Caught a Ghost’s “Can’t Let Go” makes for a nifty opening number too.
10. Tie: Sense 8 & Narcos
The Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski’s collaborating should’ve yielded a better result both as a show and for an opening sequence. Nevertheless what we do have is its own kind of wonderful in a way. A collection of timelapse from all over the world set to increasingly ominous music, it happily indulges in the chaotic nature of life and is filled with its own energy.
Covering more than just landmarks, this includes pretty much every demographic in the process – but runs a good 20 seconds too long. The same problem impacts the opening for “Narcos,” an otherwise home run of an opening the cleverly mixes up old footage, news headlines, graphics, topgraphical maps, and aerial footage showing off Pablo Escobar’s drug empire at the height of its powers.
Grace & Frankie – A cake cleverly and simply explains the show’s amusing premise.
The Expanse – Mankind expands into the solar system in a classy set of sci-fi titles.
Bloodline – The beach timelapse metaphor doesn’t get more blatant, but it’s pretty.
iZombie – Pure comic book, it’s a simple title scheme that works with its subject.
Wayward Pines – A well-done piece that, though vague, is better than the show.
Texas Rising – Incredibly detailed CG yields an impressive gun-fueled diorama.
London Spy – A simple gimmick that’s effective enough, if a bit too sparse.
Humans – AMC’s sci-fi drama gets a trippy blend of robot technology videos.